The Green Light for Cancer Treatment

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03 Aug 2015

A breakthrough that could open up options for sufferers of advanced bowel cancer has been awarded a prize at a research symposium held by Britain’s oldest surgical Royal College.

Leeds University medical student Matthew Goldsworthy was awarded the prize for Best Oral Presentation by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh ( at their Yorkshire Medical Students Surgical Research Symposium, held last month in Bradford. The symposium featured oral and poster presentations from some of the best and brightest medical students in the UK, including 21 year-old Matthew, whose prize granted him two years’ affiliation with the RCSEd, along with a place on its Future Surgeons’ Key Skills course.

Matthew’s research was part of a wider programme of work at Leeds University, which aims to ascertain whether a specific type of light therapy has any effect on cancer cells, in particular late stage bowel cancer that has spread to the abdominal lining. Existing treatments are considerably invasive - such as radical surgery to remove the abdominal lining, followed by chemotherapy - and therefore not suitable for all patients.

Matthew explored whether an injectable, light-sensitive drug could be used to treat patients. Tumour cells readily absorb the drug; more so than healthy cells; and shining a light on them causes a reaction which kills the tumour cells whilst leaving the healthy ones intact. Matthew says:

“I got involved in research through EXSEL@Leeds, a scholarship that supports medical students interested in academic medicine – where I joined a research team led by Professor of Surgery, David Jayne. I conducted experiments in the lab to test the effectiveness of a treatment called photodynamic therapy against bowel cancer cells, which involved administering a drug that's taken up by cancer cells, making them sensitive to light. When we then expose them to a specific wavelength of red light, the drug becomes active and kills the cells. There are currently a few treatment options for patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the abdominal lining, but unfortunately these aren’t suitable for everyone. My research focused on finding other options. These were early results, but they help to strengthen the body of evidence for this treatment and justify continued research by the group, which will build on the data and hopefully move from the lab to implementation in clinical practice.”

Early results ascertained that, in a laboratory environment, photodynamic therapy was effective against specific types of cancer cells, a finding that can be used to support further research into the treatment.

Mark Steward is RCSEd Regional Surgical Adviser for Yorkshire & the Humber, and a consultant colorectal surgeon at Bradford Teaching Hospitals. He was convenor for the event and says;

“The Bradford Symposium offers a glimpse into the future of surgical research and intervention. The presentations were outstanding, and we have no doubt that we will see many of the results implemented in the world of surgery. Matthew’s award was well-deserved, and we are excited to see the findings of today being used to save lives of tomorrow.”

Matthew concludes;

The medical student research symposium held by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was a great opportunity to share the results of my project, and receive feedback from seniors. Winning the award was a great moment, and a brilliant way to conclude the research project.”


About The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

RCSEd was first incorporated as the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1505, and is the oldest surgical corporation in the world with memberships approaching 25,000 professionals in over 100 countries worldwide. The College promotes the highest standards of surgical and dental practice through its interest in education, training and examinations, its liaison with external medical bodies and representation of the modern surgical and dental workforce. It is also home to the UK’s only Faculty of Surgical Trainers, open to all those with an interest in surgical training regardless of College affiliation. Find RCSEd on Twitter and on Facebook

The College is based at Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW and can be reached on (0)131 527 1600 or In March 2014, a new base opened in Birmingham, catering to the 80% of the College’s UK membership who are based in England and Wales.

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